PITTSBURGH — Most American women start their days by slipping on a pair of underwear and clasping on a bra. For up to a week each month, many are using feminine hygiene products, which are replaced every few hours. Plenty will use face-specific soap before applying face-specific moisturizer — and probably a different type for the rest of their bodies — and a bevy of makeup products might follow.
That’s easily $100 worth of goods, and her day barely began.
Although viewed as basic supplies to those with means, bras, underwear and feminine hygiene supplies are luxuries to those struggling financially. That’s why Judy Masucci, owner of bra and lingerie shop Levana Bratique in Pine, got involved with nonprofit organization, I Support the Girls, in 2017.
The bubblegum pink-and-teal-decorated van was a gift from Amazon and singer/songwriter and television personality Kelly Rowland last year. It draws attention with an anthropomorphized tampon on the side with “Yep, this van is full of tampons” scrolled in a thought bubble, which is honest advertising: Women in need are welcome to gather some essentials such as bras, underwear and menstrual products.
To contribute to the ISTG mission, simply tag social media posts with #vangina. For each post, the organization will donate one month of menstrual hygiene supplies to someone in need.
The Free Store 15104 is located at 420 Braddock Ave., Braddock, PA 15104.
Through a network of international affiliates, the group distributes bras and menstrual hygiene products to those experiencing homelessness, poverty or trauma. Founding a local chapter was a “good fit” for Ms. Masucci, given the nature of her store and her desire to serve the community, a value she learned during childhood. Following the group’s original model, she and her herd of volunteers donated products to homeless shelters, homes for abused women, churches, schools and more, but COVID-19 presented a new group in need.
“With the pandemic, we realized there were all these people who weren’t homeless or in a shelter, but they still couldn’t provide basic necessities for themselves and their families,” Ms. Masucci said. “We started a program to reach those people.”
Coordinated through her ISTG affiliate, her team distributed 60,000 items — such as bras, underwear, feminine hygiene products, masks and mascara — from March through August 2020. Those efforts were recognized on Aug. 1 in New York City with the Philanthropic Excellence honor given at the Curve Awards, which took place alongside the Curve Expo, an international lingerie industry trade show.
“There are other retailers giving back to their communities but not on the scale that Judy has, especially this past year,” Kirsten Griffin, visitor promotions director for the Curve Expo and Curve Awards co-organizer, said. “Her store is successful, not just in terms of numbers; successful in terms of giving back to the community.”